I know it may be semantics BUT I have this nagging doubt about the language of Fresh Expressions and it’s link to institutional church. I have almost posted this on several occasions but a conversation with a minister within the institutional church, this week, finally prompted me – thanks Ian.
You see the wording of Emerging Church is a great VERB, and it is one that has grown through the process of dialogue and practice and has come to express an approach to church that is traveling, on a pilgrimage, developing, growing, struggling. As a phrase it has begun to take root in people’s consciousness, and as a concept that has verb as part of it’s definition, it cannot be easily fixed or described and it continues to grow as is moves. There is something very right in the theological DNA of this type approach to being church.
However since the Mission shaped Church report was published and the link to Fresh Expressions made, I cant help feeling a slight loss of momentum. It seems that Fresh Expressions are more noun, more static, more shaped, more copyable. Please note I am not criticising individual fresh expressions of church, but wondering if the institutional link of emerging church through mission shaped church to fresh expressions is really a divergence from the missiological imperative of church to be more fluid, and to continually to contextualise particularly in the post modern west. The noun like wording makes it easier for institutional church to define, and then roll out examples to copy (and some would say control). BUT those that copy will miss all the hard work that these fresh expressions had to do as they emerged all the traveling, the pilgrimage, developing, growing, the struggling.
I think it maybe a backward step, and the consumer mentality of looking for models and the latest thing is so rampant, that if new fresh expressions don’t do the hard work of emerging, we will risk losing the stories and dialogue with people who are struggling to reconfigure what church is in their context, particularly if the structures continue to mirror consumer branding (which I think Fresh Expressions is rapidly becoming) of Fresh Expressions and they let people buy into fresh expressions as the latest thing too easily. History from missiology teaches us to be aware of copying what worked in one area, in another, and the loss this was to the church. Yes by all means learn from one another, but do the hard work of contextualising, maintain the right DNA, otherwise we will fail to grow in understanding of what church is.
This brings me to my final point, which is the sense of arrival that Fresh Expression as the noun has. This is incredibly unhelpful as potentially it can move people to think they have arrived, limit experiments, and certainly has the potential to subdue thinking and redefinition about what church in post modernity is. If we have arrived why do we need to continue to journey!!